Parkland Institute’s new study “Big Money, Big Influence” examines how campaign finance legislation passed by the UCP government in 2020 allows wealthy individuals to significantly influence the Oct. 18 municipal elections.
The changes made to the Local Authorities Elections Act (LAEA) by the UCP government allow wealthy individuals to donate up to $5,000 to as many candidates as they want, and wealthy candidates can donate $10,000 to their campaign, up from a maximum of $4,000.
“When citizens examine the implications of all the changes the Kenney government made to the LAEA, it is evident that the purpose of the changes was to give a clear advantage to those candidates who have the support of wealthy individuals and corporations,” says report co-author Bill Kilgannon, executive director of Parkland Institute. “Voters expect that our democracy should be conducted on a level playing field, but that is not possible when the rules allow some candidates to raise significantly more money than others.”
Sayeh Yousefi, a graduate student at the University of Alberta, compiled and analyzed a database of the campaign contributions of all municipal candidates in the 2017 elections in Alberta’s four largest cities — Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer and Lethbridge. Some of the key facts in the study reveal:
- Calgary candidates raised $5,435,750 — more than double raised by all Edmonton candidates ($2,016,926).
- Lethbridge candidates raised $46,283 and Red Deer candidates raised $53,884.
- The average amount raised by Calgary aldermen was $183,739, compared to $70,405 for Edmonton councillors.
- All incumbent candidates raised on average $103,231— more than four times the amount raised by the average non-incumbent candidate ($23,708).
- Corporations provided 56 per cent of all campaign funds raised by the city councillors and the mayor of Edmonton, and provided 47 per cent of all campaign funds raised by aldermen and the mayor of Calgary.
- In Mayor Nenshi’s campaign, 99 people donated more than $1,000, totalling $227,871 or 43 per cent of his total funds. In Edmonton, 33 individuals donated more than $1,000, for $76,430 or 22 per cent of funds raised.
- Despite clear evidence that some candidates breached the Local Authorities Elections Act or failed to properly disclose contributions, there is an absence of oversight and enforcement of the rules by the cities and the provincial government.
“I think most voters will be shocked to see how some candidates are able to raise as much as 10 times what their closest competitor is able to raise and use loopholes or fail to properly disclose their contributions,” says Yousefi. “Why bother having campaign finance laws if neither the city nor the province is going to enforce them?”
The report concludes with eight recommendations that would make municipal elections more democratic and limit the influence of wealthy individuals and corporations.
“By implementing these eight changes to the LAEA, municipal elections would be much more democratic and based more on a candidate’s vision and leadership, rather than on how much they can fundraise from wealthy supporters,” says Kilgannon. “Voters need to demand that candidates commit to being transparent about who is funding their campaigns before the election and for changing the laws to make our city elections more fair and equitable.”